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Reflections on Solo Travel

13 February 2013 9,337 views 29 Comments
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I love traveling solo. More than anything else, I appreciate the freedom it gives me; the freedom to move or not move; the freedom to go or to stay. I started traveling alone when I was 11, and everything I had experienced then only reinforced my belief in the value of solo travel.

Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Traveling solo to the Mekong Delta.

When I travel by myself, I learn not only to trust people  (and I have never been let down by them!), I learn to trust myself too, to listen to my intuition and believe that I can handle whatever is thrown my way.

It is unfortunate that not all travelers (male and female alike) enjoy solo travel as much as I do. One commenter said, in the report about an American woman killed in Turkey, “Don’t go off anywhere by yourself, no matter how friendly someone seems. My sister went to Mexico by herself and was raped by a tour guide at the Monarch butterfly reserve. DON’T GO ANYWHERE ALONE!”

It’s quite a hysterical reaction to solo travel, due of course, to the traumatic experience by a family member. But his (her?) comment is not even the worst of it. In that particular story, people who are against solo travel in general, or women traveling solo, in particular, had a field day virtually saying “I told you so.”

Angkor Wat

Solo travel can be a lot of fun!

According to another commenter, “A single woman traveling alone is risky. In a foreign country, it is downright foolish. Sadly, an all too-common story, with an all too-predictable ending. Will people ever learn?”

Really? Is it really a common story? Do women really ask for it when they travel alone and get victimized? This speaks quite loudly of victim blaming; it’s society saying again that women “deserve” to be raped and killed because they wore sexy clothes, went out at night, or yeah, met up with a stranger, like Sarai Sierra intended to do.

What would these people say if I told them that since I began traveling abroad in 2008, I had been staying in strangers’ houses, relying on people I only met online? (Yep, it’s Couchsurfing!)

Couchsurfing Host

With my first CS host John (from Scotland) in Shanghai (2008).

Still, the comment is a bit mild, compared to others. One commenter said I would NEVER let my wife do something like this!while another one said, I can’t believe that her husband let her go without somebody with her.

Truly, despite this being the enlightened age, a lot of people (in a lot of cultures) still think that women should still seek permission from their husband if they want to pursue something they would like to do.

The most common question, however, was, Why in the world would a woman travel out of the country to an unfamiliar country ALONE?Well, why not?

salagdoong beach, siquijor

Traveling alone in Siquijor.

Certainly, there are a lot of reasons to travel alone. For me, again, it’s about the total and complete freedom I get when I’m by myself. Other travelers cite the confidence boost they get, the chance to meet more people, and the opportunity to relax without need for company.

In the recent #WeGoSolo Twitter chat held just a few hours ago hosted by Mariellen Ward of Breathe Dream Go, a number of women who travel solo gave their particular reasons for wandering on their own. Here are just some of them:

Knowing you can rely only on yourself to get anything done—anywhere. Solitude is the highest form of freedom. –@catcon3

It’s a confidence boost! You will see that you can follow your dreams, the only one you need is you! YOU decide what you want to do and see. You learn more about yourself and meet more people. –@JennyRTW

It builds confidence. [You will] Know what you’re made of. [You] learn more about yourself. –@WAVEJourney

Traveling solo means I can create my own adventures and discover on my terms! –@OutpostMagazine

The busier I am, the more I need to “get away from it all” and have time to myself. Solo travel is great for that. –@SoloFriendly

[It is a] Great journey of self discovery, to really learn who you are and what you are capable of—things you can take home. –@DestnUnknown

Yes, we go solo, and we lived to tell the tale. We’re not foolhardy. We do take precautions. When I travel alone, for example, I am ALWAYS looking out for my safety. There’s no issue in that. The issue is the thought of having someone, another person, dictate my actions.

This Valentine’s Day, when all those who are in a committed relationship are out celebrating their couplehood, I am reminded of how I celebrated the occasion with K last year in Bruges, Belgium. The thought of settling occurred to me, missing the company of someone I had loved. Only for a second, though. I have known for some time that I can never really settle.

Minnewater Park, Brugges, Belgium

Minnewater Park in Bruges, Belgium.

No. If I get married someday, it will be to someone who respects me and understands my occasional need to be alone.

After all, I travel solo not because I want to prove something. I travel alone because I want to, I need to, and because I can.

***

In the meantime, check out some of the articles about solo female travel in the #WeGoSolo movement:


 Aleah Taboclaon is a freelance writer and editor. She likes running (completed one marathon, training for the next!), diving (PADI open water diver), and traveling with her Kindle. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!


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29 Comments »

  • Wends of Journeys and Travels said:

    Certainly, traveling solo liberates us from the tyranny of our travel buddies as I write recently. Safety and security is of the paramount importance in traveling solo, Aleah and I wished you well in all your future endeavors.

    See you soon.

  • Joshua said:

    I’ve only traveled solo a few times but I can relate to your experiences. The freedom to change your schedule and do whatever you want suits me just fine as well.

  • Aleah said:

    @ Doc Wends: I wouldn’t say tyranny, but I know what you mean hehe
    @ Joshua: Yeah, that’s primarily why I love solo travel. It’s so liberating!
    Aleah recently posted..Reflections on Solo Travel

  • Salika Jay said:

    I’ve been traveling solo for many years, although I don’t anymore. It certainly gives freedom and let us learn lot of things about ourselves and life in general. At the same time it is important to make sure about our well-being. Best wishes for many more years of solo travel :)
    Salika Jay recently posted..Udawalawe National Park Photos, Sri Lanka

  • Photo Cache said:

    point well made. i applaud those who are comfortable and more often prefer to do it alone.

    personally, however, i love travelling with my husband, or we go with people. not only is the more the merrier, the “damage” is split in many ways so it’s not too hard on the pocketbook.
    Photo Cache recently posted..Looking Up and Down While Walking

  • What's the Big Deal About Solo Female Travel? | SoloFriendly.com said:

    [...] not brave. Just smart. Runaway Jane – Should Women Travel Solo? Solitary Wanderer – Reflections on Solo Travel Solo Traveler – Am I The Polyanna of Solo Travel? Spunky Girl Monologues – 7 Reasons Why Solo [...]

  • Aleah said:

    @ Salika Jay: Thanks. I agree about solo travel being good for our well-being!
    @ Photo Cache: Yeah, solo travel can be hard on the budget sometimes, which is also why I go with friends on other trips.
    Aleah recently posted..Reflections on Solo Travel

  • fifi leigh said:

    yeah, many people, whether man or woman, travel alone, for different reasons. the only reason i think it is a good idea is because it allows the traveler what they want, when they want, and however they want, without trying to convince anyone with you to do it. sometimes people travel with slow or boring people that don’t want to do anything, which tends to slow down the travel and waste their time that could have been used to explore the area better. but i still think it is more fun to travel with someone close, whether spouse, family or good friend, to make the trip more fun and memorable by sharing it with a loved one. but this someone close should also be compatible, or arguments will arise.

  • cha said:

    Glad I discovered solo travel. I would probably miss half of my life had I not discovered it. It’s just so empowering and liberating.
    cha recently posted..The Streets of Sitio Palanas

  • Aleah said:

    @ Fifi Leigh: I agree it is fun to share your travel with someone. I guess I just prefer solo most of the time. I may not be as lucky as others are when it comes to finding that perfect travel buddy :D
    @ Cha: I agree 100%!
    Aleah recently posted..Reflections on Solo Travel

  • Dhie Rey (Islandgirltraveller) said:

    Absolutely agree that solo is best. You may start out alone but on the way you meet others also travelling solo and can join forces for a few days and part ways having made a new friendship. Also i have found that by travelling solo i am more open to meeting locals and their hospitality. There are arguments for both solo and joint adventures and i have done both but much prefer #wegosolo

  • Koen said:

    Love the pic of the Minnewater park, in Bruges…and yes, it seems to me me you can never really settle, the passion for travelling flows through your arteries…and we all need some time to be alone…the older we get, the more we realise…at least, some of us do…travelling solo is a choice and a choice is Always positive…

  • Aleah said:

    @ Dhie Rey: I have done and I’m still doing both, too, but like you, I much prefer going solo :)
    @ Koen: Love Bruges. I will never forget my memories there. I agree that I will always travel, but I hope that I can find someone to travel with me someday.
    Aleah recently posted..Reflections on Solo Travel

  • Red Nomad OZ said:

    I’m not a habitual solo traveller, but that is my choice just as solo travel is yours and others. Respecting others’ life choices is one of the greatest gifts we can give.

    Anyhow, travelling with others/another isn’t necessarily going to ‘protect’ me from bad experiences – but nor will staying at home!!
    Red Nomad OZ recently posted..The Travelling Stones Roll On … Goolwa Beach, South Australia

  • Dennis said:

    A big thumbs up to those who take the solitary path to off the grid destinations. It’s a choice not many will agree with but anywhere one goes, whether traveling alone or with others, anything can happen. When it comes to personal security, it’s always first rule for me to use common sense and keep my ears to the ground.
    Dennis recently posted..Return to Kenya

  • Aleah said:

    @ Red: You are so right that staying at home will not necessarily protect you from things happening! That’s why I would rather travel–and live!
    @ Dennis: Whether traveling in another country or staying in our own, taking care of our personal safety is a must.
    Aleah recently posted..Reflections on Solo Travel

  • frugal expat said:

    Our father taught us (my siblings and I) to travel alone since we were kids. My first solo travel was from Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon to General Santos City at the age at 11 by public bus.

    Our father used to give instructions only – where to get down, landmarks and so on.

    Looking back, there were no cellphones yet that time. :-)

    I am glad that he raised us like this because we became independent at an early age. We lose our fear too of travelling alone.

    I want to pass on the same to my kids too.

  • Marisol@TravelingSolemates said:

    Hi Aleah, great post! I have so much respect for women solo travelers – for their courage, independence and for breaking stereotypes. I had my shares of traveling solo when I was single. I had my best traveling experiences traveling solo. I had a blessing of eventually having wonderful circle of travel buddies – who I mostly met traveling solo! Kudos to you my friend for all your solo travel ventures. Enjoy it and I wish that you eventually find your perfect partner in travel and life:)
    Marisol@TravelingSolemates recently posted..Vietnam: Trekking in the Off-The-Beaten-Path Hilltribe Villages – Day 1

  • Aleah said:

    @ Frugal Expat: We started traveling solo at the same age! Very liberating wasn’t it? It’s like there’s nothing we need fear now that we have been doing it so long :)
    @ Marisol: Obviously, you no longer travel solo nowadays. I hope I can find my travel partner, too, someday, but in the meantime, I enjoy going by myself. Thanks for the wishes!
    Aleah recently posted..3 Days in Nha Trang, Vietnam

  • TravelmakerKai said:

    Hi Aleah! Its been great to recently connect with so many solo female travellers over the net! Its really empowering!

    I too like the freedom of solo travel also! And most importantly the opportunity to be open to meeting new people… And this is were the potential dangers come in- catch 22!

    I don’t stay in fancy hotel resorts when I travel. Sometimes I even couchsurf.org and had the best experiences meeting local people. I also host travellers both male and female from the site… I’m trusting but I also use my instincts and plain ‘gut feeling’…

    But will this ever be enough precaution on the topic of safety for (female) solo travelelrs?

    Please check out my travel blog site.

    I’m been putting off a post on Safety of Solo Female travellers, but with the movement on awarness going on I think its about time I made my contribution!
    TravelmakerKai recently posted..Fears of a Travel Addict… Natural right of a wo(mb)man

  • cha said:

    I’m reminded again of one of the protests signs during the height of the Delhi rape case saying something like “Don’t tell your daughter to go home early, tell your son to respect women.”
    cha recently posted..The Streets of Sitio Palanas

  • Kara said:

    I totally agree. I’ve just been on a solo travel recently. The news coming out about women abuse are deeply saddening. However it should not restrict or dishearten anyone to travel, especially women. I firmly believe in equality and freedom, it’s a BIG world out there why stop anyone from exploring it. News like these should just serve as a warning to pay much careful attention to safety but must not generalize or question others. Links you’ve posted are really great to campaign and support Safe Solo traveling for women. Women should also be responsible with their actions when traveling abroad and must plan ahead in order to avoid circumstances like these. I understand the joy you get from solo travels, it’s priceless! Awareness is always the first step. I am also working on a blog about solo travels, and share the happiness, which some are missing out sometimes. Keep inspiring!

  • Christine |GRRRL TRAVELER said:

    Good post & I totally missed that chat… Hawaii time difference totally throws me off.

    Love what you said in your last line. Can’t copy & paste it cause now you’re ultra protected from blog post theft (snicker)…

    But it’s the “Want, Need and Can” line.

    When I started it was “Have To “(because it was either wait for others and get old) and “Need to” (pursue my dream) and I was so untested and scared. Somewhere, I stopped looking or hoping to find others to travel with. I know it can never be as good as when I’m on my own. These days, it’s Want and Can. Maybe it’s too cocky, but it’s true.
    Christine |GRRRL TRAVELER recently posted..What to Do and See in Macau in a Day

  • kat said:

    nice article! i travel solo too and i am also a woman traveler!

  • JR Riel said:

    I am so glad you posted this. So many negative things are going around about solo female travel, and your words have experience and weight behind them. I’m glad and those other bloggers have the courage to share your side of the story.
    JR Riel recently posted..Dish of the Day: Li Hing Mui! The Beloved Childhood Snack of Hawaii

  • Ding | The Pinoy Explorer said:

    Traveling is group is like hell! I like traveling solo. It gives me that freedom to decide on my own. But I do like a company in some instances–like when the travel is too far and I am all alone by myself and wanting to have someone to chat with. It is like a security blanket. I am a “situational” traveler when it comes to having a company or being on solo.
    Ding | The Pinoy Explorer recently posted..14 photography interests in Chitradurga Fort

  • Arianwen said:

    I prefer to travel solo and haven’t encountered any problems that having another person around would have avoided. I think people who’ve never done it fail to realise how easy it is to meet people when you travel on your own. You’re actually not alone very much at all.
    Arianwen recently posted..Scared Britless: High-adrenaline New Zealand

  • Mary @ Green Global Travel said:

    Thank you so much for sharing this article and your views on this topic! I couldn’t agree more and am thrilled to see an experienced female solo traveller advocating for this type of travel. People so often question whether they will be safe, and while travellers do sometimes encounter unfortunate or dangerous circumstances such an the one you referenced, it is certainly very rare and the world is extraordinary and it’s people welcoming – and more alike than not – go explore!
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..INTERVIEW: Ben Jaffe on Preservation Hall Jazz Band & New Orleans

  • Aleah said:

    @ Mary: Thanks for dropping by! All too often, women let the fear for their safety stop them from traveling solo. It’s too bad, they have missed out on a lot by letting their fears rule them. There are so many things they can do to address these safety issues. :)
    Aleah recently posted..Exploring Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen

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